If there’s one car aimed squarely at a narrow audience it’s the Audi TT. The styling is eccentric with a retro-tech vibe, the utility is limited by a squat roofline and puny 95.6-inch wheelbase, its mechanical components are a hodge-podge picked from the VW parts bins and, if nothing else, it’s an Audi. It’s profoundly not the car for everyone.
What’s staggering about the TT is the number of varieties in which it’s available. There are six varieties of TT: the 2+2 coupe and two-seat roadster equipped with front-drive, a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and the 180-horsepower version of the 1.8T turbocharged four; the coupe and the roadster in quattro form with a six-speed manual and the 225-horsepower 1.8T; and finally the coupe and the roadster are now available with a 3.2-liter V-6 making 250 horsepower and driving the quattro system through a new double-clutch equipped, six-speed, computer-controlled, F1-style, paddle-controlled “Direct Shift” gearbox that can operate as an automatic. That’s amazing variety for such a niche vehicle, and it stands in stark contrast to other narrow-focus machines like the Honda S2000, Ford Thunderbird, and Lexus SC430 that offer no choices as to engine, transmission, or drive system.
The TT isn’t for everyone, but those who want one can get exactly what they crave. And that ought to be either the new V-6 TT 3.2 quattro coupe or V-6 TT 3.2 quattro roadster.
Better than ever, in some ways
Based as it is on the platform of the Volkswagen Golf, the TT isn’t a thoroughbred by sports car standards. But despite those modest underpinnings, it’s always done a good imitation of one. With the new engine and transmission though it becomes something altogether more sophisticated than before.
While the V-6 is the most powerful engine yet offered in the TT, it’s also the most silken, easygoing, and best sounding. Besides having the most horsepower of the TT’s three engines, it also produces the most torque. All 236 lb-ft are available from as low as 2800 rpm in the V-6 compared to 207 lb-ft for the 225-hp version of the 1.8T. With all both cams whirring away the narrow angle V-6 (yes, it’s a version of VW’s VR6) makes a subdued, almost clock-like sound under the hood with little induction noise. The exhaust sound is subdued, but throatier and particularly engaging in the roadster with the top down.
But the V-6, ingratiating as it is, isn’t the star here. It’s the engine’s companion, the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) that elevates the TT to a new level of mechanical fascination. Based on a dual clutch concept that dates back decades, the DSG is yet another manual transmission hooked up to a computer to do the shifting and clutch engagement through some sort of contrivance. But the dual clutches mean that whenever one of the six gears is engaged with one clutch another gear is being disengaged — there’s no gap while the drivetrain swaps gears. There’s a seamlessness to this system that’s missing from other automatic-manuals like Ferrari’s F1 and a responsiveness that’s absent from you-shift-it automatics like Porsche’s Tiptronic.
Taking sensor data for everything from brakes to traction control, vehicle speed, engine speed, and the stability control system, the computer makes relatively aggressive shifts even in the pokey automatic mode. Shift it yourself and while the computer won’t let you do anything to seriously harm the engine (no sixth-to-first shifts at freeway speeds) it reacts with grace and speed to reasonable requests. The shifts all occur with the almost perfect matched revs resulting in a smooth, perfectly mannered transition from gear-to-gear every time. You can be even more aggressive with a pure manual transmission, but this is about as good as this particular type of transmission gets — and it’s hard to imagine it getting much better.
Same as ever, in many ways
In appearance and general decoration, the TT hasn’t changed much since the car’s introduction way back in 1998. There are subtle changes to the front fascia to feed more air to the larger engine, but it’s not so different that anyone not paying particular attention. It’s hardly fresh on the market, but the TT design has a timelessness about it so that it doesn’t look like a relic from an era when Pets.com looked like it might be a smart investment.
There’s no surplus of room in either the coupe or roadster (and the coupe’s rear seat is more a joke than a place to sit), but the driver and passenger are comfortable enough. The TT’s beltline is relatively high so you don’t feel as vulnerable to the elements in this roadster as you do in say a Honda S2000 and there’s no surplus of rearward visibility when the top is up, but it’s a secure feeling in general.
Furthering that is the car’s sheer feeling of heft. Slam a door and sound like a five-pound slab of Monterey Jack hitting a deli’s marble cutting block. The TT has never been light, but the 3.2 comes in heaviest of all at a chunky 3351 pounds.
Let the DSG do the shifting and the 3.2 glides like a cruiser trawling for submarines; it feels alert and alive, but relaxed with its solid structure and weight smothering down pavement waves. Audi claims 0-to-60 in about 6.4 seconds and that seems about right if the transmission is in charge.
Shift the DSG yourself and it reacts with heightened reflexes if not the hard-edged nerviness of an S2000. Dive into a corner and this front-drive based roadster plows ahead like a front-driver. But given some spur at the apex the quattro’s system’s virtues appear as the car accelerates through the corner. The steering is composed and well weighted, if not overly communicative, and the new enlarged four-wheel disc brakes have a nice progressive feel and seem to resist fade.
The TT is fun, but it’s also a car that can commute comfortably. The DSG and V-6 fit right in with that personality and will clearly be the choice of most TT buyers. Because if there’s one thing that TT buyers should know, it’s themselves.
2004 Audi TT 3.2
Base Price: $42,900
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, 250 hp
Transmission: Direct Shift Gearbox, dual-clutch, computer controlled six-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 159.1 x 73.1 x 53.0 in
Wheelbase: 95.6 in
Curb weight: 3351 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A
Safety equipment: Front airbags, side airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Cruise control, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, automatic air conditioning
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles; four years/unlimited mileage roadside assistance